Day 8 – 9/4, 8:45pm, Centralia WA
Biking south out of Seattle on a clear day, Mt. Rainier looms like a totem, beckoning you forward from your left up ahead. You catch glimpses of it as you bike through the strip malls, suburbs, and industrial zones that, like most American cities, ring Seattle. Then it becomes a near-constant companion, pulling slowly, tantalizingly closer to your even left, until the final, sweet satisfaction of getting in front of it, having to crane your neck to see it behind you.
I biked 97 miles today, the most thus far on this trip. (For those counting at home, the total is at 333, including the miles to and from the gigs in Vancouver and Seattle. I think this 1800-mile composition is going to crack 2000.) I’m glad to have this diary, it gives me someone to talk to on the long bouts on the road. It’s funny watching my brain wander – sometimes obsessing over the route ahead and counting down each painful mile, sometimes zoning out to bits of music in my head or suddenly hearing all the sounds around me (wind, birds, passing cars, even the buzz of the power lines). Creating lists of the hierarchies of road kill – no one mourns a skunk or squirrel, but there is tragedy in a crushed turtle or felled bird. Not sure yet how I feel about possums or snakes. Realizing biking up hills is like cooking – two hours of work for fifteen minutes of pleasure. And many times, having in depth conversations with this diary (yes, I know I’m just talking to myself; no, I’m not worried, yet…), most of which I will wholly forget by the end of the day.
I had a lovely time in Seattle. It was my last dose of familial comfort until San Francisco. Since my brother-in-law lives there, my wife’s whole family had assembled for Labor Day weekend. So a wonderful, if slightly surreal, juxtaposition from my first few days of solitude on the road.
And a fantastic gig last night with Cuong Vu, Carmen Rothwell, and Dylan van der Schyff. Cuong and Dylan have long been two of my favorite musicians, and it was a pleasure to introduce them to each other. Since Dylan was out of town when I was in Vancouver, I had to cheat a little on my “local musician” construct and import him for this gig; I couldn’t roll through the Northwest and not play with him! And I always love multi trumpet/cornet small groups. Stephen Haynes and I had a couple of projects, and I had a quartet with Nate Wooley for a minute, but it’s been a while since I’ve played in that space. Matching horns with players like Stephen, Nate, or Cuong is always deeply inspiring. I also find when a group doubles the same (or similar) instruments, you can really investigate the subtleties of musical personalities past the generalities of the horn.
It was my first time meeting Carmen and she lived up to the strong recommendations she received from several Seattle friends. I was happy to find out she was a former student of Cuong’s. It got me thinking of one of the greatest gifts so many of my teachers gave me – Bill Lowe, Anthony Braxton, Jay Hoggard, Pheeroan akLaff, among others. I met them as a student, but as I matured, they gracefully and generously embraced me as a colleague and a friend. For me, that delicate transition can be one of the beautiful aspects of a life in creative music, and it was great to see that tradition moving forward with Carmen and Cuong.
There was a hip little bike store right across the street from the venue, Bike Works. Among other things, they have a great program where kids can earn a bike by learning how to build them; they’re loaded with recycled and DIY gear. (Dylan found a mountain bike fork he’s been looking for at a great deal.) They gave me a quick tighten-up, so my wheels are spinning truer and my gears are shifting smoother. I also bought one of those uber-nerdy mini rear-view mirrors that clips onto my glasses. I’m going to ignore Satchel Paige’s famous advice; sometimes it’s good to look back, if it’s an 18-wheeler that’s gaining on you.
But tonight, it’s not the trucks but the trains. Centralia is a way-station for the long, long kind, the ones with freight cars for days. I’m staying at a funky place, the Olympic Club, a former “gentlemen’s club” for gamblers, loggers, miners, and train-workers in the 1900s, turned speakeasy during Prohibition, turned historically-minded retro-hipster manifestation now. Meticulously maintained in its classic style, with portraits, facts, stories and quotes painted on the walls. (With a good soundtrack in the restaurant – Willie, Dylan, the Band, etc – and some tasty spicy pork sliders.) The tracks run right behind the hotel, so the trains run through every fifteen minutes or so, whistles blowing and bells a’clanging, a background for some interesting dreams as I collapse exhausted into bed.